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Payout defeat for freed prisoners

Two men who spent years behind bars before their "unsafe" convictions were overturned have lost High Court actions in their fight for compensation.

Sam Hallam, who was convicted of murder, and Victor Nealon, who was found guilty of attempted rape, asked two judges to rule that UK law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because it wrongly restricts compensation in "miscarriage of justice" cases.

Their judicial review challenges were the first to be brought against the coalition government's decision last year to narrow eligibility for an award.

Mr Hallam served more than seven years after being ordered, as a youth, to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure for a minimum term of 12 years.

Mr Nealon was given a life sentence and served 17 years in jail - 10 more than the seven-year minimum term - after he persisted in claiming he was innocent.

Both men were set free after appeal judges ruled that fresh evidence made their convictions unsafe.

Lord Justice Burnett and Mrs Justice Thirlwall, sitting in London, dismissed their cases today.

Mr Hallam was arrested after a gang of youths attacked Essayas Kassahun, who died two days later, on October 11 2004.

Mr Hallam, then aged 17, was convicted of Mr Kassahun's murder, conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm and violent disorder.

But in May 2012 - seven years and seven months into his sentence - appeal judges decided all three sentences were unsafe.

They ruled that new evidence, in the form of timed and dated mobile phone photographs, dramatically undermined accusations that Mr Hallam had deliberately concocted a false alibi.

But the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) rejected his application for compensation for miscarriage of justice in August 2014 on the grounds that the phone evidence had been partly, if not wholly, attributable to Mr Hallam himself.

The MoJ also said the new evidence did not show "beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Hallam did not commit the offence".

In the case of Mr Nealon, he was originally convicted of attempted rape on January 22 1997 at Hereford Crown Court and sentenced to life.

His conviction was quashed in December 2013, four years after a DNA test pointed to 'an unknown male' - not Nealon - as being the likely assailant.

Although denied legal aid, he was determined to receive compensation for the 17 wasted years spent in jail and the trauma he continued to suffer.

But in June 2014, the Ministry of Justice rejected his application on the grounds that the DNA analysis "did not show beyond reasonable doubt that the claimant did not commit the offence".

It was announced that Mr Hallam intends to seek permission to take his case to the Court of Appeal.

Paul May, chair of the Sam Hallam Defence Campaign, said: "This is a sad day for justice and the presumption of innocence.

"We hope the Court of Appeal will overturn this judgment. Sam Hallam's wrongful conviction was examined in meticulous detail by the CCRC in a three-year inquiry, and Thames Valley Police in a 15-month investigation.

"Not a shred of evidence was uncovered to place him at the murder scene, while no less than 37 witnesses were identified at the scene, none of whom saw Sam Hallam.

"The callous refusal of the Ministry of Justice to compensate this innocent man is truly shameful."

Lawyers for the two men argued in the High Court that the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which governs compensation payments was amended last year in a way that violated article 6(2) of the ECHR because it required a person seeking an award to prove they were innocent.

Applicants for compensation now have to satisfy the Justice Secretary that "a new or newly-discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt" that they did not commit the offences for which they were jailed.

Heather Williams QC, representing Mr Hallam, argued at a two-day hearing in May that the new rules meant that, to qualify for a miscarriage of justice payment, "the applicant has to prove his innocence, and the Secretary of State has to assess whether he has established his innocence".

Today Lord Justice Burnett disagreed and ruled that the law "does not require the applicant for compensation to prove his innocence".

The judge said: "It is the link between the new fact and the applicant's innocence of which the Secretary of State must be satisfied before he is required to pay compensation under the 1988 Act, not his innocence in a wider or general sense."

In Mr Hallam's case, the new evidence did not prove that his alibi was true and he could not have been at the scene of the crime, or that the identification evidence was wrong.

It did provide cogent evidence to suggest there might have been "an innocent explanation" for his being mistaken about where he was at the time of the crime.

But it did not establish that he could not have been at the scene of the crime, as would have been the case if he had been in a different country or city, which would have established he did not commit the crime, said the judge.

The statutory compensation scheme "maintains the presumption of innocence, which is not impugned, but provides compensation if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the new fact conclusively proves innocence".

"The refusal of compensation on the basis the statutory criteria are not established does not carry with it the implication that the person concerned is, in fact, guilty."


From Belfast Telegraph